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The Idiosyncratic Parkway

July 30, 2012
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When I go out of town with my family for the weekend, I’m usually allotted one morning to bird.  This is generally enough for me, as with the technological tools at my disposal anymore I have a good chance to maximize that morning out such that I can target whatever species I have on my wish list with great efficiency.  It’s a wonderful age for the wired birder.

This past weekend saw us in the far northwestern corner of North Carolina, the guests of my wife’s friends whose family maintains a “mountain house” in Ashe County – yes, we seem to know all the right people – which placed me in a county in which I had done very little birding before.  Moreover, what birding I would be able to do would primarily take place on the Blue Ridge Parkway, that strip of federally owned highway that runs along the ridges and valleys of the Appalachians through North Carolina and Virginia.  This is a very good thing.

I’ve sung the praises of the Parkway before, its value as a scenic wonderland and a viewing platform for canopy birds, but it’s impossible to overstate how good birding can be.  And even more fun for the obsessive county lister when the parkway runs alongside the county lines for long stretches.  For much of my morning I one side of the road, and the birds therein, lay in Ashe County, and the opposite side in neighboring Wilkes County.  So when a big flock of Wild Turkeys runs from one side of the road to the other, as they did on several occasions, I end up with double ticks.

But much of Parkway birding takes place on the 200-odd overlooks that dot the route.  An when I bird I’ll stop at every one, employing a modified point count with a minimum of 3 minutes at each stop.  If the birding is good, however, I’ll hang around.  The calender may still say July, but the birds are gearing up for fall in a big way.  Residents are no longer holding territories, but banding together in mixed species flocks such that the key to coming into a good bit of birding is to keep your eyes and ears open for chickadees and titmice, and stop and check things out when you hear them.

That strategy enabled me to nab a singing Hooded Warbler, alongside a pair of Black-throated Green Warblers, sharing a tree with Redstarts, Blue-headed and Red-eyed Vireos, and nuthatches of two kinds (red and white).

Between Ashe and Wilkes County, and a brief stop in Alleghany the day before, this mountain trip that wasn’t even a birding trip enabled me to pick up almost 60 total ticks, even if the trip list was barely over 30 for the whole thing.  Double counties will do that for you, all thanks to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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